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April 9, 2008 at 4:51 PM

I went. I saw. I Taste(d) Washington! (And yes, I loved it.)

I don’t drink alot, but I do drink frequently. And I did just that last Sunday. With a glass in my hand and my camera in my pocket, I spent several hours at the Grand Tasting at Taste Washington! — an event that capped-off of a weekend of serious Washingon wine enthusiasm for folks from near and far. Having attended this Sip-and-Nosh-O-Rama (after a decade of ignoring it), I’m finally willing to grant the wine weenies behind Taste Washington! their exclamation point.

What a bonanza! There was food, wine, friends, fun. And if you think I sound like a tush-kissing media-type who bought into the Washington Wine Commission’s hype, then you obviously weren’t with me as I strolled the spacious miles of aisles at the Qwest Field Event Center, trying to curb my enthusiasm while successfully sipping my way through a crowd of 3500 attendees. Here’s a “Taste” of the action:

Below, you’ll see the General Admission line outside the Quest Center just before 4 p.m. These people paid $85 each for a four-hour tour, though they could have opted for a VIP pass ($125) and showed up at 2 p.m. for the early-bird special. That sounds like a lot of money either way, but given what those Washington wineries were pouring, and given that there was plenty to eat to go with it, believe me: it was a major bargain. (Yes, even in this economy, so don’t go writing to tell me I’m off my nut.) The gig went till 8, and there were plenty of party-heartiers around when I left around 7-ish.

Here’s a birds-eye view. See the Elliott’s oyster bar on the bottom left? They moved nearly 5000 half-shells, shucked on the spot:

Recognize this guy, below? I did. He’s Paul Mackay, of Mackay Restaurant Group — the fellow who put the gaucho back in El Gaucho. He and his wife were just leaving as I walked in:

Meanwhile, Mackay’s staffers were cooking up plenty of surf-and-turf for the crowd. El Gaucho served 3000 portions of beef tenderloin with peppercorn Roquefort port demi-glace. Waterfront, El Gaucho’s seafood sibling, was offering Wicked Shrimp with grits: 3000 plates full. That’s a lot of pan-sauteing. Here’s the before and after:

The glass of white with the shrimp (which gets my “best of” award for the day’s eats) was a viognier from Lake Chelan. And although I’m not a big viognier fan, it got a big thumbs-up from me. Here’s the winemaker, Judy Phelps, who owns Balsamroot Winery & Vineyard in Manson:

Judy told me there were 14 wineries within 20 miles of Lake Chelan. She said it’s a great fruit loop for tourists. “You can do the North shore one day, and do the South the other.” Sounds like fun.

Below is Chris Upchurch, winemaker at DeLille Cellars, whose D2 (a Bordeaux-style blend) is my husband’s favorite wine. When our son was a baby, I dipped my finger in a glass of D2 and let him taste the wine. He shoved my finger back in the glass and stuck it in his mouth for a second “sip.” If I’m lucky, he’ll grow up to be a winemaker. Hey Chris! Long time no look! I absolutely love your “do”: you look like one of the Three Musketeers. “Wine for all, all for wine!”

See the guy with the beard? That’s Bob Betz, of Betz Family Winery:

How good was Bob’s wine? His was one of the first I tasted, and when I swung back around shortly before I left, this is what I found:

Standing near the Betz table, I ran into Paul Gregutt, the Seattle Times wine writer, who was here with his wife Karen, who’s a filmmaker (and a real doll):

And here’s the Seattle Times wine writer’s best friend:

At Taste Washington! spitting isn’t rude, it’s a necessity. And Paul’s a real pro. Speaking of which, he pointed to the four empty cases of Betz Family 2005 Pere de Famille and did some math: “Four cases, about $600 bucks a case, that’s $2400 — they could have sold every bottle of it.” Paul (rightfully) pointed out that big-name wineries like Betz, Quilceda Creek, K Vintners, Andrew Will “didn’t need to be here.” Meaning they can sell everything they’ve got — hold the promotion.

There were plenty of other winemakers I was happy to see and schmooze with.

Like Paul Beveridge (who’s got the right name for the job, huh?), from Seattle’s own Wilridge Winery (you know, the one next to the Hi-Spot and across from Cremant, in Madrona):

I always order his wines when I see them offered by the glass in local restaurants and wine bars. Paul says he (finally!) gave up his day job (he’s a lawyer) to concentrate on the wine-biz full-time. These days, he’s bottling 1500 cases annually.

This is Peter Dow:

You may already own a photo of him: That’s Peter, lifting a glass on the cover of Tom Douglas’s cookbook, “Tom’s Big Dinners.” Peter’s the guy who owned and brought acclaim to Cafe Juanita (and made his own Cavatappi wines there) before selling his Kirkland restaurant to Holly Smith, who put her spin on the place and made it famous all over again. These days he’s the head honcho at Cavatappi Distribuzione — his Seattle-based wine distribution company. And he’s still making wine at Cafe Juanita. I love his Maddalana Nebbiolo, and regularly buy his Columbia Valley sangiovese for home consumption (I recently found some on sale at Whole Paycheck for $12-ish).

Here’s Chris Camarda:

You may not recognize his face (I didn’t), but you should recognize his winery: Andrew Will. I asked him how his brother Vince was doing. Vince is a young Seattle chef I knew from his work at the late Cafe Zaffarano in West Seattle. Last I’d heard, Vince was at Queen City Grill, but that was a while back. “Vinnie?” Chris said. “He’s working for me. He does catering. He works in the garden. I pay him twice as much as he made working in restaurants!” Now there’s a big brother for you.

Check out these young ‘uns, pictured here with their instructor, Reggie:

They’re from South Seattle Community College’s Culinary Arts program which offers courses in wine technology. The were pouring a hefty red — a petit verdot whose grapes are donated to the school by local growers. Impressive! (It was being paired with a chocolate dessert, but seeing as I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I took a pass.)

I didn’t have any Tim’s Cascade Potato Chips, either, but I did stop at the booth to say hi to the gals working there. They looked parched, so I asked them if they’d like me to go snag them a couple of glasses of wine. They took me up on my offer. And here they are with some Coyote Canyon rose — made with 100 % barbera grapes. I figured the fruit and salt would work nicely. Plus, it matched the chip bag:

I never found Uli’s Sausage, but I did find Uli — whose sausages are made in his Pike Place Market shop. Not too long ago, I ran into him in the parking lot of my local supermarket, Petosa’s, in Edmonds. He was off-loading sausage before heading home for the day. Works like a dawg, I tell ya. Here he is, taking a (much-needed) break:

So, you think Uli’s got a nice mustache?

That’s because you haven’t seen Luigi DeNunzio’s (pictured here with his wife, Angela):

Luigi was passing out fresh-shaved Parmigiano on rustic bread, and using an eyedropper to anoint the cheese with truffle oil.

That cheese made a nice precursor to this, a spring pea soup from Greenwood’s fabulous vegetarian bistro, Carmelita:

And here’s Carmelita, held in the hands of her son, Michael Hughes. I’ve been writing about his restaurant for so many years, I was glad to finally be able to introduce myself:

Here’s another guy I had fun chatting-up: Dan Thiessen, owner/chef of O/8, in Bellevue. He was passing out a kind of ceviche-fied scallop, and I wish I had talked him into giving me a second one:

Actually, I did take a second helping from Lane Hoss of Anthony’s Restaurants, whose bite du jour was fresh Dungeness crab on Belgian endive. Next time I have a party, that’s what I’m making. It was the perfect cocktail snack:

And look at this sweet-faced guy. He’s the new executive chef at Six-Seven at the Edgewater. He was also passing out some kind of seafood — gazpacho, if memory serves:

Speaking of gazpacho, you haven’t lived till you’ve tasted the white gaspacho my dear friend Ernie Pino makes (with grapes!). I ran into Ernie here too, with his partner, the wonderful and talented pianist and composer, Mr. Richard Gray:

There was more to do than just eat and drink at the event. You could also play ring toss:

What’s the prize? Whaddaya think!

After a rousing game of ring toss, it was Miller Time. OK, I lied: it was Pike Brewing Time, and here’s a couple who know how to pull a beer — Rose and Charles Finkel, from Pike Brewing Company:

Rose is a real Slow Food maven, and she put her money where her mouth is by serving a couple of incredible cheeses, including two flavored with the Finkel’s own brew: Naughty Nellie from River Valley Ranch and Brewleggio, from Estrella Family Creamery.

Throughout the evening, guest chefs gave cooking demonstrations. Eric Donnelley, from Oceanaire Seafood Room took a turn at the stove, which I missed. Here he is right after:

And there was a huge turnout for this guy, who’s famous from Top Chef.

You probably know him, and I’d look his name up, but I’m too lazy (note all the local working chefs in the background, keeping a close eye on his moves).

I also met up with a bunch of Wine-Os:

That’s Stafford Lombard and his sisters, Amy and Kathy. Stafford took his BFA from Cornish and put it to work, and is now selling Wine-O cards, which he just proudly patented. They were a bit hit at the National Stationary Show, he says, and now available at Metropolitan Market. Great idea, guy. It beats taping a square envelope to a round bottle.

Among the umpteen people I met and chatted with at Taste Washington! were this trio:

The woman on the left is Faye Brehm. She and her husband sell wine grapes, and they also have a little “retirement” project going: White Salmon Vineyard, not far from the Oregon border. Faye insisted I try their pinot noir and once we got to talking, I found out that she, like me, is from Philadelphia. And it turns out that so was the guy in the middle of the photo, Greg Osenbach, of Whidbey Island Winery, whose table was next to Faye’s (actually, he’s from Souderton, a Philadelphia suburb). While we were talking, Michael Kolsky, on the right in the photo, showed up. He’s a cork salesman for Ganau America: “real cork” — don’t get him started. And I’ll be damned. He’s from Philadelphia, too. South Philly, where my dad grew up.

And just because those Taste Washington! people think of everything, look what was waiting for me after I’d had enough fun and headed for the door:

I was sober as a judge, but I’m sure there were a few tipplers in there who could have used some help getting home safely. In fact, word has it that some guy drank enough to write a check for $143,625, which bought him the Maserati Quattroporte Sport on display during the festivities. Frankly, I think someone should have told him it would be a heck of a lot cheaper to take a cab:

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